The work was, at first, a struggle. But by “borrowing” medicine from Boston hospitals and taking weekend flights to Cange, Haiti, from Harvard Medical School, Paul Farmer and his team were able to start the international nonprofit, Partners in Health, and save hundreds of lives.
As part of the International Studies 30th Anniversary Celebration, the documentary Bending the Arc was shown on March 21, in addition to Burning in the Sun, which chronicles the story of a man who attempts to provide solar power to a village in West Africa on March 20. Bending the Arc follows Farmer, an anthropologist and physician, Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, and Ophelia Dahl, social justice and health care advocate, and their revolutionary public health organization. The film is a hopeful depiction of the struggle to provide healthcare globally and earned many accolades as well as being a Sundance film festival selection.
The film focuses on the creation of Partners in Health in 1987. The audience is whisked around the globe as the group’s influence grows. The organization must grapple with the concept of responsibility: Who provides the healthcare services these communities need, and how? As the group expands to new continents, the film portrays the scientific community and government agencies as unresponsive, and even combative, as they are presented with evidence that Partners in Health is successful with the minimal resources available to them. The team nevertheless puts all their energies into bringing aid to those in need.
“I first read Paul Farmer’s work last semester in my sociology class, and he’s an incredibly smart and interesting bioethicist,” Rara Gumbel ’21, who attended the film, said. “I’m so glad his work was shown at Kenyon because it really applies to so many fields: biology, philosophy, medicine, sociology, anthropology and many more.”
This depiction of the work not only provides an assortment of how these topics can be applied to aid work; the film also told a compelling story and created a connection between the programs and the viewers.
“I think [the movies] make important connections between academic pursuits and the possibility of activism and engagement with the rest of the world, which I think is especially important for us here, since we do live in such a bubble,” R. Todd Ruppert Associate Professor of International Studies Steve Van Holde said.
“It gives students a chance to think about those things, and to see people who are really successfully doing that kind of work try to help people change their lives and their life circumstances.”
The International Studies 30th Annual Celebration is holding four different panels and one lecture this week. The International Studies department is the oldest interdisciplinary department at the College. The movie touched on a lot of the issues that are featured in the panels this week: sustainable development, the provision of healthcare and services and personal empowerment.
“I think it’s a big deal because we are very engaged and committed to that sort of constructive interaction with the rest of the world,” Van Holde said. “The panels are significantly oriented towards what can you do with your life … after you leave the Hill.”